As the 7th of June approaches, my wife and I prepare to celebrate the birthday of our second son. He is a beautiful, mostly happy baby who is gradually learning to interact with a world that he isn’t really able to see as a result of damage to his visual cortex from a Grade IV intra-ventricular haemorrhage… and yet he still finds joy. Over the last twelve months I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve written a lot – from the shock of discovering of his medical condition through the stages of processing what it all meant and receiving updates from various doctors, through two brain surgeries and three fluid taps to the confirmation of cerebral palsy on his left side and the likelihood that his vision is very low, if it is there at all – through all of this the (active) sovereignty of God really has been, as Charles Spurgeon put it, ‘the pillow on which the Christian rests their head’. Until now though, I haven’t written about something else that happened on the day our son was born. In some ways it was small, it probably only lasted 30 seconds, and yet it is burned into my brain and still boggles my mind. It was something one of the midwives said while we were waiting to go to theatre… but more on that soon…
“His optic nerve is pale and visual activity is poor. The next step is more testing. I’m sorry I can’t give you a more definitive answer right now, but I’ll see you in four months time.”
These [paraphrased] words were not what we were wanting to hear when we took our almost five month old son to an ophthalmology appointment yesterday, but reality doesn’t care about what you want to hear. We have known ever since the diagnosis of hydrocephalus from a grade four bleed in the brain while in the womb that there was likely, medically speaking, to be some effects from the internal brain injuries during the developmental stages. The neonatologists even went as far as to say there was a high likelihood that the resulting impact would be fairly severe, given the serious nature of what occurred somewhere between 20 and 32 weeks. I remember asking about whether his hearing or sight would be impacted on the day when they broke the news to us about the likelihood of hemiplegic cerebral palsy on the left side of his body. I remember the horrible feeling when they said “we don’t know”. Fast forward several months. He has been through so much and bounced back from all his surgeries so well that it became tempting to think perhaps we were over the biggest hurdles. The last couple of weeks though, I’ve felt squarely back in the land of many unknowns as far as what lies ahead.
You know that saying, ‘life is a roller coaster’? There’s no denying it’s true, but I’ve got to admit that nothing has caused it to feel more accurate than watching my baby son go through frequent medical ups and downs while I am powerless to stop it. Sure, life is never perfect, but compared to these last few months I feel like much of life has been more of a gradual trek up and down various hills and valleys rather than a white knuckle ride with danger around every corner. Those who have been tracking with my recent posts will have read about our family’s journey through my infant son’s initial diagnosis in the womb with a severe brain bleed and resulting hydrocephalus (extra fluid build up in the brain causing potentially dangerous pressure increases with many and varied possible outcomes, both short and long term) and our joyful relief tinged with some ongoing trepidation about the future when we were able to bring him home from the hospital, continuing to pray for healing as we sought to ‘ask boldly and surrender completely’. Now, two and a half months down the track, it’s time for an update.
Have you ever experienced a miracle? I believe I have, and two days ago my wife and I brought him home from the hospital, praise God! After an ultrasound at 32 weeks revealed two serious issues in our unborn baby’s brain, which doctors were powerless to do anything about until he arrived, our world was in many ways turned upside down as a whole swathe of possible outcomes presented by neonatologists and neurosurgeons bounced around in our heads. You can read more about that stage of our journey here, as we sought to depend on God to get us through, but I’d be lying if I said the prognosis didn’t make the last few weeks of our pregnancy quite different to the unrestrained excitement we’d experienced with our first pregnancy.
Thursday the 7th of June 2018 (37 weeks and 5 days) was the day we were to meet our new baby via caesarean, which had been arranged due to the fact that the swelling in the brain was causing the head circumference to measure over the 99th percentile making natural birth dangerous as contractions would put too much pressure on the brain. At 3.19pm, a baby boy – a brother to our first son, Asher – entered our family, causing us to simultaneously give thanks to God while buckling up for one of the most intense weeks of our lives. The obstetricians and neonatologists had prepared us for the fact that the baby may need to be rushed to neonatal intensive care, would likely need help feeding and need to be fed via syringe, may have a visibly disproportionate head and could have a number of other complications, with the possibility of further symptoms developing down the track. There were between 15 and 20 people in the operating theatre… not exactly a reassuring sign, but they all played their role and we were relieved to hear the first cry as this little life entered the world outside the womb.
1. How Quickly Things Can Change
On Thursday I sat in a small room in a large hospital… again… waiting to hear some good news from the doctors, waiting for some answers, waiting to find out what they can do to help (and when), waiting to see what God will do in this situation and how He will use it for our good and for his glory. Before I go any further forward, I suppose I should go back a couple of weeks… It’s Sunday night. This time the previous week I had been sitting down with my wife, preparing for work to get busy again after a short holiday break, and just generally enjoying the stage of life we’re in with an almost two year old filling our days with joy and another little one on the way.
On Tuesday, we were to attend our final ultrasound before the next baby is born. The scan was booked for 32 weeks for a fairly routine check-up. I was excited to see our little baby for the second time. After attending the first scan I had missed the second scan, so I was keen to see how it had grown. The scan was going fine, we thought, and then the sonographer said she needed to get some extra paperwork. At this point my wife and I didn’t think much of her exit from the room, and I even (perhaps naively) thought the 15-20 minute wait until she returned was nothing to worry about. You just kind of assume things will go alright, well, at least that’s what I assumed. When she returned though, my wife and I heard words you never want to hear as expectant parents during an ultrasound; “I’ve noticed some things that I think you need to speak to a doctor about.” I remember sitting there thinking: hang on, this pregnancy has been quite smooth, the baby has been healthy all the way along, what could possibly be wrong all of a sudden? When I tried to ask for specifics, I was told “I think you really need to speak to someone who is trained to talk to you about this.” So it began…
Today is Good Friday. Yesterday I attended a Maundy Thursday service and as the pastor began his welcome and call to worship he touched on the unusual name we give this day – ‘Good Friday’. It seems that what it commemorates is something so brutal that ‘good’ almost feels like the wrong descriptor, and yet we know that for those whose faith is in Christ and his sacrifice on the cross some 2000 years ago, the outcome of Good Friday is most certainly good. Jesus’s death on Good Friday was one of two central defining moments in God’s salvation plan to redeem his people from bondage to sin and death and transferred us into his Kingdom, laying our sin on Jesus, forgiving us by grace through faith in Him and adopting us as His own.
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
The pastor said something like “It might seem strange that we call it Good Friday, in fact you might even wonder why we don’t call it Bad Friday…” He went on to explain the good that came from it, which is obviously the most wonderful truth to behold, but it seems to me there are a number of helpful words to use in front of the word ‘Friday’ – words that might help us to approach the commemoration of Jesus’ death with appropriate wonder, awe, grief, humility, joy and thankfulness.
Today was Christmas Eve. I spent it driving an hour each way to and from my old church to fill in on bass for their Christmas Eve carols service before picking up my wife and son to begin two days of visiting family, giving and receiving presents and eating lots of food.
I generally love Christmas. I mean, I grew up loving Christmas and in many ways I still do. I love what it means and represents. I love the fact that after all the craziness in the lead up, people sort of relax for a few days. I love giving and receiving gifts and I don’t mind carols… when they’re done well. As I drove from my new hometown to my old hometown and back today though, I thought about a sort of small and insignificant aspect of Christmas; the wrapping paper.
Recently my wife and I watched a documentary which I had backed on Kickstarter. It was great. You should watch it. It’s a film that reflects back to me the story of my own faith journey over the last five years, a journey shared among many others in my generation who have sought to dig deep into the truth of God’s word and to live in light of the clear teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, with the Bible as our sole infallible authority. Today marks the 500th anniversary of a courageous act by a young Martin Luther who confronted the Roman Catholic church of his day by nailing 95 debate points to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. It’s important to reflect on and thank God for the lives of faithful men and women who have gone before us, and who confronted the false teachers and corrupt leaders of their day for the sake of the true gospel which they worked hard to get into the hands of common people. That said, there’s more to Reformation Day than just remembering a bunch of dead guys and what they taught. The bigger picture is about paying attention to what the Reformation means, where it led and why the need for semper reformanda (to be constantly reforming) is as real today as it was in 1517.
Famous author and critical thinker C.S. Lewis is quoted as having said that Christianity can either be true and vital or untrue and useless, it cannot be both and it cannot be somewhere in the middle, containing elements of truth and elements of falsehood.
Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.C.S. Lewis
Recently I found myself in at least two discussions with professing believers about the nature of the atonement (the process of sinners being made right with God) and the true meaning, and purpose, of the cross of Christ.
Writ large across the pages of scripture and therefore heralded for centuries as one of the central components of the Christian faith is the truth that since sin entered the world through Adam (Romans 5:12-21) we have all fallen short of God’s standard (Romans 3:22-23), none of us is righteous in and of ourselves (Romans 3:9-18), we are all slaves to sin (John 8:34), and we are all deserving of its consequences.
The fact that we all deserve to face the ultimate consequence (or wage) for our sin, but in His mercy God has saved a people for Himself, is to me one of the most awe-inspiring aspects of the Christian gospel message. Romans 6:23 reminds us of this important fact by saying:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So why would anyone want to twist that message?